The quality of my TBR list has improved greatly of late thanks to Jenny Crusie. Last month she added a new weekly feature, Good Book Thursdays, to her blog, www.arghink.com, and invited her online community to recommend something good to read.
Jenny’s followers are a discerning group, so when Katherine Addison’s novel The Goblin Emperor collected a slew of recommendations, I bought it and bumped it up to the top of my list. I’m glad I did. The story is fantasy, which I love, arguably Young Adult (not so much my thing), and with only the barest smidgeon of the possibility of a future love story (bah!), but I really enjoyed it.
The Goblin Emperor is a coming-of-age story about eighteen year-old Maia, half-elf, half-goblin, who unexpectedly becomes Emperor of the Elflands following the death of his father and three of his siblings in an airship crash. He’s the only child of a political mixed marriage, raised in exile by his mother and after her death, by a bitter, bullying cousin. Maia comes to the dangerous, formal and highly politicized Imperial Court without friends or allies and has to decide whom to trust and just what kind of Emperor he wants to be—assuming he survives long enough to make his mark. He quickly discovers that his father’s airship was sabotaged, and he’s smart enough to realize the murderer is likely to be close at hand.
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Sometimes basic is best. Getting back to basics. Basic black. Basic humanity.
And so it is with writing. Every now and then, often in one of the revision stages of a story, it’s time to get back to the basics – the point, the goal, and the conflict of a story. That means it’s time to reach into the writer’s basic toolbox and pull out some old favorites to identify festering plot holes, shore up weak conflicts, and fix leaky sinks. Okay, maybe not that last one.
This lesson presented itself to me when I recently found my Harrow’s Finest Five book 1 revision slowly circling the drain (what is it with me and sinks today?). I was dissatisfied with the story stakes. As I read the manuscript, they didn’t seem to be escalating, further complicating heroine Emme’s life, and leading her to an inevitable clash with consequences of her own making.
An author has options at such times. Crying. Chocolate. Booze. Cyring into chocolate and booze. But I’ve heard it can actually be more empowering to use TOOLS. Powerful, writerly tools. In this case, I opted for the tools and pulled the conflict box out of my toolbox to see why my revision had gotten stuck and my story felt flat. Continue reading
“Two Strings to Her Bow” by John Pettie, 1882. From Wikimedia Commons.
This past week, on one of the author loops I read, someone posted about her preference to read historical romances in which heroines either don’t step outside the bounds of the time period’s social structures, or suffer (social) consequences if they do. While I don’t want my 19th-century heroines to read like 21st-century women, I can’t get on board with keeping our heroines from stepping over the lines or cutting off their toes if they do.
During our McDaniel classes, we discussed the need for characters, especially protagonists, to be in some ways larger or better or more interesting in stories than most of us are in real life. A story about ordinary people going about their ordinary lives under ordinary circumstances just isn’t likely to be a very riveting read. One or more of those ‘ordinaries’ need to become extraordinary to make our fictional worlds worth exploring. And I want my historical heroines, whether I’m reading about them or writing about them, to be extraordinary. Continue reading
I spent much of this past week planning. Planning my annual writing calendar. Planning time for writing, revising, and editing the many different stories I hope to write this year. Planning the historical romance novella series that is part of that annual writing plan. And that’s where I’ve hit a snag. In fact, I’ve hit a few snags and have had to go back to the drawing board.
Problem 1. Novella 1 (book 1 of the series) is too damn long. This issue isn’t too surprising to me, as this poor manuscript has had so many different identities, it just has no idea what it is or is supposed to be. It was a novella before it was a novel before it was a novella again before it was the first book of a series. Continue reading
Last week, I discussed character appearance/description and the lack thereof in my WIP. Of course, as with any other aspect of reading, the amount of description a reader wants to see is based on personal preference, and even among the Ladies here, we have a wide range of opinions. But we weren’t the only ones thinking about writing characters this past week.
Over at ArghInk, as part of her Questionable series, Jenny Crusie answered a question from friend of 8LW, Deb Blake, about building in-depth characters. (I love this series. Basically, if Jenny is talking about craft, I’m listening!) Jenny talked about creating characters with length (character arc) and depth (the way the details of her life reflect that arc). Continue reading
As I continue my quest to seek out stories and whatever lessons I can take from them, this time I turn my attention to opera. You read that correctly: opera. I am an opera fan, although not a particularly well-versed one. My favorite operas have gorgeous arias, duets, and quartets with amazing harmonic lines. In the voices of well-trained and talented singers using their voices like fine instruments, opera music, like so many types of music, can be transcendent. All that being said, I don’t consider opera my go-to medium for story.
However, operas are, at their heart, stories. (Don’t tell my husband, who is an operatically-trained tenor. In his world it’s All. About. The. Voices.) Yes, operas have a reputation for being melodramatic and predictable. In fact, upon entering an opera house, you are handed a program that contains, among other things, a full story synopsis rife with spoilers. Still, many operas also have strong protagonists with well-defined goals, stronger antagonists with their own goals, and a narrative through-line that is going to bring these forces to blows (literally or figuratively) in the end. You know, story.
And professional productions, like those performed at the Met (and live simulcast in HD movie theaters), have amazing directors who know how to block out action to demonstrate story and character growth. So when I went to see a live Met simulcast of Prince Igor this past weekend, I went in thinking about action, about looking for interesting choices the director has made, and about what I could
steal borrow when writing plot through action for my own characters. I came out thinking about the narrative thread, and how the loss of it can torpedo your entire story. Continue reading
So, do you know what happens when you’re working a lot of hours, not sleeping enough, and haven’t gotten your flu shot for the year? If you’re me, you get the flu. And fast on the heels of that, you might even get a bonus opportunistic sinus infection. I can power through a lot to get words on the page, but some days, rest and healing have to take precedence. And those can be perfect days to spend time absorbing other people’s writing, through books, blogs, movies, and TV shows.
On the surface, it would appear I haven’t gotten very far in my WIP revision over the past week and a half, but as I snuggled under my blankets and watched all sorts of interesting shows and read books that had been teetering on the top of my TBR pile, my writer’s brain was whirring away after all. Today, with the meds finally kicking in and the fog around my mind receding a bit, I took stock of all my forays into other people’s stories, and here’s what I learned. Continue reading